Posted by Joshua on Thursday, April 12th, 2007
The Cheney team is pulling out all the stops in a last ditch effort to get the Security Council to establishing an international tribunal to try the Hariri murder. At stake is the policy of isolating Syria. Support for the Bush administration's policy of isolation has taken a number of hits lately from both European and US statesmen, who have visited Damascus and believe that Syria must be part of the solution in the region. They believe that enlisting Syria's support is necessary to reverse the regional slide toward chaos.
Liz Cheney in the Washington Post writes: "The Truth About Syria," which begins:
Anyone familiar with the past two years of Lebanese politics would never claim, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did in Damascus last week, that "the road to Damascus is a road to peace."
Talking to the Syrians emboldens and rewards them at the expense of America and our allies in the Middle East. It hasn't and won't change their behavior. They are an outlaw regime and should be isolated. Members of Congress and State Department officials should stop visiting Damascus. Arab leaders should stop receiving Bashar al-Assad. The U.N. Security Council should adopt a Chapter VII resolution mandating the establishment of an international tribunal for the Hariri murder.
The Security Council should also hold Syria accountable for its ongoing violations of existing resolutions. The U.S. government should implement all remaining elements of the Syria Accountability Act and launch an aggressive effort to empower the Syrian opposition. European governments should demonstrate that they value justice over profit and impose financial and travel sanctions on Syria's leaders.
The comment section on Cheney's op-ed is instructive. Read it here
Lebanon's destiny is indeed being determined today.
While the majority and Prime Minister Fouad Siniora are taking the Security Council route to establish the Hariri tribunal under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, Hizbullah's secretary general merely reiterated Syria's line on the Lebanese deadlock. He reaffirmed that the party's conflict with its adversaries is an existential one and, rashly, made Shiites the first line of defense in protecting Hariri's killers.
The UN is where all major matters Lebanese are likely to be decided in the coming months. The Chapter 7 tribunal bazaar has been opened. Ultimately, the outcome will in all probability be decided at the level of heads of state, not foreign ministers.
All of this comes down to the UN Security Council and whether it will vote to establish a special court.
Here is what I wrote about the likelihood of that happening in a comment on my last post.
On the tribunal, everyone is saying, “Yes, it must happen,” but few are willing to take responsibility for it. The head of the UN made it clear during his most recent visit to Lebanon that establishing the legal framework for the tribunal was Lebanon’s duty. He demanded that Lebanon come to a consensus on the tribunal and pass the appropriate laws in the Lebanese parliament. Saudi Arabia said the same thing. Russia said it would not vote against the tribunal in the UN, but asked for time and said it was complicated. This is also a way of saying “yes” and meaning “no.”
There is “public” agreement that the tribunal ought be established, but no agreement on how it should be established. Lebanon's March 14 coalition have asked that the UN vote a special Security Council law, taking the matter out of Lebanese hands. The UN, however, has asked that the Lebanese pass it through their parliament, which will not happen because Nabih Berri, the Speaker of the Parliament, has refused to call a meeting of the parliament to discuss it. Not even March 14 members think they can force it through parliament any longer.
There is a pattern here. Everyone is saying “yes,” but meaning “no.”
There is little international will to tie Syria up in a complicated international court process that most believe will ultimately be inconclusive. The UN investigation into the Hariri murder led by Brammertz has provided little beyond circumstantial evidence that Syria was involved. (On this see my earlier posts here and here.)
Because of the Bush administration success in bringing “chaos” to the Middle East and failure in bringing peace, most international statesmen are coming to the conclusion that Syria will have to be enlisted as a key player in helping to advance stability in the future.
There is no desire in the international community to preclude the possibility of doing business with Syria – the real consequence of establish an international tribunal.
A hundred legal and economic restrictions have already been imposed on dealings with Syria. They will be difficult enough to undo. Why add the master lock – the international tribunal – which Cheney hopes to leave as his legacy to the Democrats?
This is why so many heads of state are coming to the conclusion that establishing the international tribunal is unwise; it is why the Pelosi visit was explosive; and it is why the Cheney-Abrams team has launched the attack against her. What hope remains to them of getting consensus for a Security Council resolution took a big hit with her visit. Not only do most of the Europeans and Middle Eastern heads of state believe that Lebanon would crumble under the pressure imposed by an international tribunal, but so do the Democrats and many Republicans. They have little faith that the Bush-Cheney plan for the Middle East will bring success.
In conclusion, here are two recent articles that make the argument that Syria is gaining new converts in its claim to regional importance and future stability: one is by Mark Perelman of the "Forward," who just returned from Damascus, the other is by IPIN, a security think-tank.
Detente is the talk of the Town in Damascus
Syria Claims Mediation Role in West’s Standoffs With Hamas and Iran
| Fri. Apr 13, 2007
Damascus — While Republicans and Democrats in Washington trade blows over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria last week, officials and pundits in this ancient capital describe the political feuding as a distraction from a more important truth. From their viewpoint, Pelosi’s visit was not a freelance bid for American-Syrian thaw but rather the latest step in a larger Syrian-Western rapprochement that has been under way for months….
During the past few weeks, new events demonstrated how Syria's position in the Middle East has strengthened since last year. Although the Bush administration has aimed to isolate Syria, there are new signals pointing in the opposite direction, such as the March bilateral talks in Iraq between the United States and Syria. Moreover, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recent trip to Damascus has been an important success for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since it creates the image of Syria as an element of stability in the region.
In light of these changes, Syria appears to be modifying its foreign policy to demonstrate how it could play an important role in guaranteeing the stability of the Middle East. Syria is hoping that outside powers will recognize its vital interests — Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Iraq — and if they do so then Damascus will assist in stabilizing Iraq. If, however, its interests are not recognized, then Syria will resume brewing instability in the region.
Lebanon is a key point of disagreement within the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser degree Egypt, is backing Lebanon's Fuad Siniora-led government against Syria, the latter of which supports the groups that are attempting to cause the current government in Beirut to collapse. Currently, Syria's moves in Lebanon are dictated by international contingencies, such as the upcoming elections in France. Assad wants to stall for time in order to delay a Lebanese vote on the establishment of a Hariri tribunal until after the departure of French President Jacques Chirac, one of Assad's main political enemies. Syria hopes that the next French president will take a softer line with Damascus. Therefore, for now Syria wants to keep the question of the tribunal in limbo…..